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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  January 21, 2015 11:30pm-12:01am EST

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good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. earlier this evening, president barack obama delivered his annual state of the union address. there's so much to talk about tonight. our guest jeffrey sacks, professor and director of the earth institute at columbia university. "the new york times" says he's probably the most important economist in the world. we're glad you joined us.a2/ a conversation with jeffrey sachs coming up right now. ♪
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and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ please welcom jeffrey sachs back to this program, one of the world's leading experts in fight against poverty which has taken him to more than 125 countries. he joins us tonight for an assessment of the president's address earlier this evening. more important to talk about raising the standard of living for the poor and around the globe. always an honor to have you on this program. >> it'sqíf you, tavis. >> let me jump to some of the specifics of what the president had to say tonight. provision for free access for two years of community college.
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what impact do you think that might have giving those persons who most need it access to a high quality education? >> that's a home run. we absolutely need to put focus on skills on training. that's the route to better jobs. the president's exactly right that education, the high tuition costs have been a major barrier, especially for kids in poor families. so this is right on track. much overdue. >> next issue that he raised is this reduction of premiums for federal housing administration loans. it is the hope of thevqrñ administration that this program will cut the annual mortgage payments by about $900 annually for the typical first-time homeowner. clearly you can't talk about an access to wealth, an can assess to prosperity or a path to prosperity without talking about home ownership. what do you make of this particular proposal? >> well this is another proposal in the direction of trying to help poor and working
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class families. it's part of the overall package. i don't see this one as decisive, but i again, i think it's good as part of an overall package of saying, we have to give some help because the income inequalities in our country have reached historic highs. people are struggling at the bottom of the income distribution. we have to find all the mechanisms to help them move forward, to help themselves, of course. >> there's been so much about this next point in the news of late in part because i suspect it impacts so many americans and so no surprise the president hit this tonight because we knew it was come. but this notion of paid family leave for workers. what impact do you expect that that will have on americans? >> can you believe that the united states is basically the only high income country in the world without this? >> uh-huh. >> and i was just in scandinavia which doesu
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think have family leave. they have all the protections for working class families guaranteed daycare costs also so that both parents can work if they choose to and most do. and so that kids born into any family have a good chance. so this is another one of those cases of american exceptionalism exactly in the wrong way. we're just exceptional in not providing this basic level of assurance to all families. >> it remains to be seen, of course, how far the president will get on any of these programs and ideas given he's now up against a republican-controlled house and a republican controlled senate and yet one of the issues raised tonight was the notion of raising taxes on the wealthiest to the finance tax breaks aimed at raising stagnant incomes for low and middle income households. specifically the president is
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hoping and proposing to raise capital gains and dividend tax rates to 28% for high income earners. i don't know how far that's going to get in the senate or the house. what do you make of the fact that he even raised it tonight? >> i can predict it's not going to get very far because this republican dominated congress was elected for the sole purpose basically of giving even more tax breaks to the rich, giving even more regulatory breaks to the oil industry. so they're in there for a purpose, for the purpose that those who financed the campaigns want them there to make the rich even richer. what the president is saying is a no-brainer. the rich have gotten so phenomenally8@qñ wealthy in recent years in the united states. they've been the recipients of basically all of the gains of @ó÷%9=5 and wealth in recent years. and they haven't been paying
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their fair share. the tax system is designed for them. for loopholes, tax breaks, tax havens, and the president is saying the very straightforward thing which he has been saying for a number of years that the rich have to pay more. we hear the whining of the republicans in recent days oh it's small business and so forth. this is about the richest people in the world. and they ought to be paying more in taxes. but these proposals have very little chance of making it right now. they're mainly tf for 2016 for a good robust debate in this country over what's fair and how our economy should remember that the republican majority was elected in part through the massive giving of some of the richest people in the world with the express purpose of opposing proposals like the president made this evening.
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>> i suspect that's why we've seen in recent days jamie dimon and others going pretty aggressively at congress trying to getfíar them to roll back some of the regulations that have been put in place over the last decade or so. what do you make of the fact that it didn't take long again for wall street to raise its head once it was clear these republicans were going to control both houses to try to roll back the regulations that were in measures like dodd-frank? >> there's one word i would use which is shame. when jamie dimon is out there lobbying for these breaks instead of actually reflecting on the fact that his company, his bank jpmorgan has paid an estimated urf billion or so in fines for all their massive illegalities, i can't believe these ceos are even in place anymore given what their companies did, the fraud that they engaged in the fines they
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have paid. where are our regulators where there should be basic standards of moral upstanding requirements to be a leading banker in this country as there are in the banking system in other parts of the world. it's a shame. and it really in my view, is -- is just a testament to what happens in this country right now the. the rich behave with impunity. in the literal sense, they break the laws, their companies break the laws. their companies pay massive fines. and yet, the rich that are sitting on top ofhp'e these enterprises of il legality don't bear any of the consequences. they walk the halls of power to lobby for even more privileges. >> i want to go back to something -- >> it's not a good thing, tavis what we're seeing. we're just seeing the bluntness of the american pay for play political system right now. >> i want to go back to something you raised earlier in
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this conversation. let me really go back to 2007. when senator barack obama was running for president you'll recall he campaigned on doing something about the eradication of poverty. that was in his platform. he was going to do what he could to take on the issue of poverty and do what he could to eradicate it. it took the president almost six years after getting in office to finally get around to giving a major public policy address on the issue of poverty. 5 1/2 years before he finally did that. to my mind, he has not been as aggressive as he ought to have been on raising the minimum wage and other things he could have done. for the first two years he did control the house and senate when he first got elected. democrats ran both houses. that said, the president 5 1/2 years later finally gets around to giving a major speech on poverty and income equality. we see him earlier tonight to his credit -- let medá when he gave the speech 51/2 years later he said the right
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things. he said poverty, income inequality is the income issue of our time. he said the right thing. tonight, i think he's done the right thing by putting many of those proposals on the table but as we have already discussed most of this stuff ain't going nowhere pardon my english because the republicans now conzú)q house and senate. here's my question what do you make of the fact that everybody now, and i do mean everybody seems to getting in on the poverty conversation? i don't know how seriously i want to take this. i don't know how earn abnorthwest it is. but i read the other day that mitt romney, mitt romney if he gets in this race is going to make poverty, this is mitt romney who is going to make poverty and income inequality the centerpiece of his campaign. what do you make of the fact that at least in word everybody seems to have poverty and income inequality on their lips. tavis it, first i want to thank you because you were there way before everybody else. you were there were touring this
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country talking about this issue with our great friend cornell west and others. and calling out the administration as well as the congress for not taking this on. this is the issue that should have been faced many, many years ago. it is a bit striking that even the republicans who have been nothing but ruthless in simply going for tax breaks for the rich are at least mouthing this. i don't give it too much credence in terms of the actual policies and politics that they're going to follow. but they're acknowledging something which is that america has a shocking level of wealth and income inequality. but the we have to say something else because it's only true unfortunately. both parties are in this dirty business. both parties feed at the same or similar campaign trough. it was president bill clinton
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who really brought wall street into the democratic party, his famous triangulation. and wall street has been funding both the democrats and the republicans. i hate to say it but someagvxl friends in the democratic party have been in the lead of giving privileges to wall street, keeping the tax rates low for the hedge fund managers and the rest. our system is rotten because money is at the core of american politics right now. and whether it's gleefully so for too.republicans or hand wringingly so for some democrats they're both making the same phone calls they're both looking for the same billionaires to give them the contributions, and the working people and the poor do not have their say. and this unfortunately extends across both parties, not to be
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misunderstood, the two parties are not the same. but we basically have a problem of money driving policy in both parties. >> i want to come back to the 2016 race and what happens if the republicans do make this a key issue in a moment. let me start with the point you raised just now. if you're right about the fact and i think you are, that washington is bought and bossed by big money and big business what do we do about it? what agency do everyday people who watched this address tonight saw him put these proposals on the table that might do something for the disenfranchised economically in this country, what agency do they have to impact or affect that the again given that republicans now control both houses of congress? >> well, first, we have to applaud the president for the proposals tonight. we have to get out there every way we can to say this is the right track, this is what this country needs. this is what fairness is about. and also, this is what economic
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growth is about because if we empower more people to have more skills we also have a growing economy. so we have to do everything with our voice right now and that's very important. i do believe though we're going to have to go back to the basics offov we're all rethinking and reliving the experience of 50 years ago of selma and the demonstrations that changed this country. we're going to have to raise a voice and get behind candidates for example, that say no, it's not my billionaire versus your billionaire. i'm not taking this dirty money. i'm not taking this corrupting money. i want you to÷ncc support me not my opponent because i'm not bought. those are the candidates we need to look for in 2016. who has the guts to run a campaign saying i'm not going to take big money? we don't know yet. but ifnyw9 candidates appear that are ready to do that those are the ones i'm going to get behind
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because that's how we're going to break this system, not by begging our senators and congress men to do the right thing. the system is rigged for the incumbents. we have to break the system by supporting candidates who are going to do the more radical thing to say i'm going to run on social media. i'm going to run on free media. i'm going to run on the basis that i ax not a bought candidate and i'm waiting for some of those candidates to appear next year. >> i'm waiting are for that, as well. but i go back to 2007. barack obama basically said that in 2007 that he would not -- he was going to raise all the money that he could that he wasn't going to take the money that was to my mind at least dirty money and what it all came down to, he flipped because his thing was after citizens united we'll talk about that now this week the fifth anniversary of that infamous supreme court decision, citizens unites when that decision was made, barack obama had said one thing prior to it and another after.
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i remember talking to folks on this program who decried his doing that 180. they said mr. president, please don't abandon the promise that you made. his response was i can't beat mitt romney. i can't run and win if he's going to take this big money and i'm not. even when they commit not to take it, he took it anyway. >> well, you know, when he flipped already back in 2008 actually. >> right. >> -- and did a lot of big bundled money i have to admit i said look, i want this guy to win. that's all right. go for it. don't tie your hands behind your back. i was wrong because he had too much wall street influence in the white house. it's one of the reasons why we didn't make more progress in the first two years. you look at who his advisorses were in the first two years. i'm sorry to say, they were the bankers. they were right in there because they had also paid a lot for his campaign. and i was wrong because i said
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look, this guy's so great. i don't care what he does. i want him to win. but we have to go actually deeper than that. we have to say we're not going to accept the flip-flopping even from someone who looks wonderful. we're going to go for the real thing. we're going to insist the candidates stick with their word. i believe are tavis, that there's a huge mileage, it's untested. it's unproved but i believe there could be huge mileage to a significant candidate saying, i'm not playing this game. and i want you to vote for me because i'm not playing this game. because we've seen what happens when ourcrho candidates do play the game. they never listen to you again. they only listen to the people that gave them money. and by the way, there's as you know very well, there's a tremendous amount of scholarly research showing that only rich people -- only rich people's opinions actually matter in the legislation that ends up being passed in this country.
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you can÷# the broad public wanting taxes raised on the rich as has been true by the way by roughly 60 or 65 to 40 or 35% margin for a decade it doesn't matter. because the congress is bought. we have to go for the real thing. i believe it can be done. we need that kind of social movement that is not just a candidate here or there or a candidate with a friendly billionaire behind him or her, but saying we're going to do it a different way. i think it can work. but it's got to be tested. >> what's your -- i think i understand it but give me your sense of what citizens united has done to this country five years later to our politics that is. >> our supreme court has absolutely done its bit to wreck our democracy. tavis, as you know, i'm traveling all over the world. people cannot believe what they see in america these days.
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the amount of money flowing is something unlike you'd see in any other high income democracy in any other part of the world. we have legalized one of the most corrupted systems imaginable. the supreme court you read the opinions, you can't even believe it. they say, well, what's the public going to mind if you have all this money unless it's literally a transaction that i'm giving you money and you're giving me pos, we're not going to call this corruption. of course, it's corruption. it's an completely corroding america's trust in our institutions. the supreme court got it completely wrong. their logic was disastrous at the time but it's been proven empirically to be disastrous. look at the recent election. we don't note how much the koch
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brothers actually put in but we know it's far north of $100 million. they bought more than 40,000 ads and estimates i've heard from very credible people are more than $400 million, which wouldn't surprise us because the brothers combined had a net worth estimated at $100 billion as of last year. and because of the supreme court, we don't know what they gave. it's anonymous. it's through all these phonyn front organizations. but it was massive. and it has instilled fear in candidates, as well. they don't want to get out of line because they money can hit them with terrible attack ads that may have no truth at all. but in the slime of the politics could still affect the outcome of the election. so our politicians even the good ones run scared. we need politicians who aren't
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scared who are going to get out there and then as citizens we need to especially defend them and use the social media and our facebooks and our twitters and word of mouth to give support to the ones that aren't taking the big money. >> i got four minutes left and i want to go back to the issue dear to your heart poverty, particularly as it relates to the 2016 presidential election which is obviously all everybody's going to be talking about in the coming weeks and monthsw)? as these candidates start to declare whether or not whether or not they are the officially in the race, democrat or republican. let me go back to 2007. in 2007, viewers of pbs will recall i had the great honor of moderating two presidential debates for all the democrats at howard university, barack obama and john edwards and hillary clinton, everybody in that race all showed up to debate these issues and all the republicans those who would show up to talk about poverty and other issues showed up at morgan state university in baltimore.
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two debates live in primetime here on pbs. i just the other day wrote out a new campaign using the #2016 poverty debate lsht 2016 poverty debate. in the history of this nation, jeffrey, there has never been a presidential debate focused exclusive for 90 minutes on the issue of poverty and income inequality. what i'm asking for and others are starting to ask for now is that the presidential debate commission in 2016 sanction one of those three final debates between the candidates exclusively on the issue of poverty and income inequality. i'm going to do everything i can to push for that in 2016. we need to have a presidential debate on the issue of poverty in america for the first time ever in 2016. i say all that to ask whether or not you the believe that if the republicans do get serious about raising this issue at least if they put this issue on the docket, whether or not that would even put more pressure on democrats to raise it and might get us to a place in this
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country where we can have a real conversation about it, agree or disagree with their proposals, i'm hoping that the republicans really will raise the issue of poverty because if they do then everybody's going to have to talk about it. >> tavis, as usual you have a brilliant idea. i'm going to be as much behind it as i possibly can. i'm going to be watching also where these candidates go. you know i watch the candidates come to new york city where i live. where do they head? they make a bee line for the upper eastside for the big campaign donors. i want to see the candidates in harlem. i want to see them talking to, going out to queens, going out to the bronx going out to working class and poor neighborhoods. that's a real etest also. who are the candidates talking to? and i think we can judge a lot of their character and their intentions and who's paying for them by where they head. but your idea of getting a focused debate on fighting poverty is a great one.
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there are so many powerful things that can be done for basically fairness. the[= united states ranks near the bottom of the high income world in facing up to this issue because there are practical things that other countries are doing in health are in education in supporting children, in daycare for poor families and so forth that can make a huge difference, and by having the debate we're going to absolutely accelerate progress towards those solutions. >> when it comes to the issue of poverty there's no person i regard or respect more in this country in this world than jeffrey sachs. his work and witness on this issue is renowned. i'm always honored to have him as a guest on this program. thank you for your work again and for your witness. thank you for being on this program. >> let's do it soon. >> thanks. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, vit tavis smiley at pbs.org.
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>> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversationings with benedict cumberbach, star of the film "the imitation game." that's next time. we'll see you then. and by contributions to your pbsh/ station from viewers like you. thank you.
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>> pbs. be more. pbs. >> be more. pbs.
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>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight bill and melinda gates. >> when you let your heart break and think of what it would be like to deal with a child dying of malaria. you say to yourself my gosh, we have to save not just that childe-rqnc0@6cexjbut 600,000 children. and that can be done. if you let your heart break but then you come home and you take all the science meeting and you see all the great innovations and you figure out how do i deliver those things in these difficult remote settings in africa. i think that sets up learning for the foundation over the last 15 years. not just how to do the great science but also how to deliver it in these remote settings. >> philanthropy is more about pilot programs, innovation. some of the research things that it's so risky it wouldn't get done otherwise. as a percentage of the dollar, the overall

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